Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith wants in on the National Hockey League.

While his Smith Entertainment Group requested the NHL initiate the expansion process last month, he also appears open to getting into the league by relocating an existing franchise to Utah.

Enter the Arizona Coyotes.

To be clear, the team is not up for sale. But the Jazz weren’t necessarily for sale either when Smith first approached Gail Miller about selling the team.

The Coyotes play in the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena (4,600 capacity for hockey) at Arizona State University because the city of Glendale declined to renew its lease at Gila River Arena in 2021 due to issues over payments, threats of relocations and contract disputes. Attempts to build a new NHL arena and entertainment district have so far failed, though ownership has assured the league new plans are moving forward.

On the ice, the team has missed the playoffs four out of the past five seasons.

The effort to bring an NHL franchise to Utah just took a huge step forward
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith talks with Senate President Stuart Adams.
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith talks with Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, as the SJR12 resolution on bringing an NHL hockey franchise to Utah is voted on at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Here’s the logic for Smith buying the Coyotes: Buying used rather than new could save him hundreds of millions of dollars.

As of last December, according to Forbes, the Coyotes were valued at $500 million, lowest in the 32-team league.

The Vegas Golden Knights paid the NHL a $500 million expansion fee in 2016, the Seattle Kraken were assessed at $650 million just two years later. That money was equally distributed among the existing NHL teams, though Vegas, as a new entrant, did not get a share from Seattle’s payment.

Smith might be looking at having to write a billion-dollar check to get into the league.

The last time a team changed cities was in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to become the Jets under new ownership. The league assessed the owners a $60 million relocation fee. That would probably be higher now but nowhere near a billion.

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At least one longtime hockey writer recently made the case for the NHL to move the Coyotes to Utah and avoid expansion.

“For those of us in the business of reading the NHL tea leaves, expanding to Salt Lake City now looks like a real possibility,” Eric Duhatschek, a senior hockey writer for The Athletic, wrote last week.

Duhatscheck, who spent 17 years as a columnist for The Globe and Mail and 20 years covering the Calgary Flames and the NHL for the Calgary Herald, makes the argument that rather than awarding an expansion team in Utah, the league should move the Coyotes north.

“The reality is, if the Coyotes can’t get going on a new building and Salt Lake City is ready to go — which Smith says they are — then the easy, and relatively seamless, solution is to transfer Arizona to Salt Lake City,” he wrote.

Smith has said an NHL team in Utah would initially play at the Delta Center until a new, hockey-specific arena is built.

Duhatscheck notes that would mean no expansion fee to divvy, which could be problematic and would divide ownership bases.

“Some will want the expansion cash infusion. Others might be prepared to look at the bigger picture and figure that it’s worth passing on expansion fees if the Arizona problem can go away, once and for all,” he wrote.

“In the end, there are only two choices. Doing the right thing or doing the greedy thing. The right thing is to let the Coyotes move to Salt Lake City.”

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Duhatscheck said the Coyotes are an appealing franchise stocked with young talent.

“With a little bit of financial backing from a well-heeled ownership to flesh out the payroll, the Coyotes could be formidable fairly soon,” he wrote. “Shifting Arizona to Salt Lake City would leave the league at 32 teams and wouldn’t even require the divisions to realign.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in a press conference last Friday that the league isn’t currently looking at expansion or relocating the Coyotes, but noted Smith is interested in an expansion team.

Asked on “The Pat McAfee Show” last month whether he prefers an expansion team or an existing team, specifically the Coyotes, Smith said, “Look, I think our goal is NHL, and I’ll leave the rest on how that happens to Gary.”

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